Content Warning: physical and sexual violence against women; hanging/lynching imagery
What’s it about? God granted witches the power to help humanity and hoped they could all live together in harmony. Unfortunately, the scientific revolution has made the power of witches unnecessary and the Redia Empire began a mass genocide against the witches for the sake of “humanity’s progress.” Adonis is on the run with his mentor, Chloe (an ice witch), but eventually they are captured and he’s forced to watch her be murdered in front of a cheering crowd. After witnessing her brutal death, Adonis vows to get revenge by slaughtering the entirety of the human race.
On paper, I should love this premise. I mean what’s not to like about a story of marginalized people seeking vengeance against an Empire keen on exterminating them? The problem is the narrative is too focused on Adonis’ perspective rather than centering the witches’ feelings on their own annihilation. An argument can be made that perhaps Adonis’ point-of-view shields us from the personal psychological horrors the witches are experiencing, but the constant cruel visuals of witches being hanged and sexually assaulted throws that logic out the window. The question then becomes, “why couldn’t Chloe be the protagonist of this show?” Her insight could’ve provided context on how witch societies were structured and how they dealt with their deteriorating relationship with humanity. Despite her dire circumstances, Chloe is still, somehow, a kind person and doesn’t want to commit senseless violence.
However, even her kindness has its limits and when she’s forced into a humiliating situation, she isn’t afraid to attack the humans that want to see her die for their own amusement. Chloe is a far more interesting character than Adonis, and it’s honestly a shame the narrative continuously degrades her before cutting off her head as onlookers take pictures on their smartphones. If you take out her awful death, Chloe’s life had the makings of a good origin story for her quest for vengeance. While Adonis’s anger is justified, he overall feels like a shallow character and isn’t all that different from male protagonists in power fantasy stories.
That’s why The Kingdoms of Ruin doesn’t work as a revenge story, because we aren’t made to feel the gravity of the injustice being done to the witches. All that matters are Adonis’ feelings rather than the actual horrors being committed. That’s not to say a loved one getting revenge for those directly affected can’t be interesting, but as mentioned before, everything feels like an excuse for Adonis to be violent against cartoonishly evil antagonists. Since he’s human, he’s locked away rather than tortured or simply killed, which is a bit baffling since the Redia Empire doesn’t hesitate to inflict physical and sexual violence against women. It’s glaringly obvious the show revels in demeaning women at every turn that it’s almost a huge relief when a prisoner of war (POW) named Doroka stands up for herself and exerts some agency in this show. Doroka adds some much needed levity to an otherwise depressing premiere, plus her brief conversation with a fellow POW and her helping other POWs escape from prison is a nice touch of female solidarity.
To be fair, revenge stories are notoriously difficult to write because it challenges people’s morals on how justice should be achieved for those who’ve been wronged. Should the protagonists of those narratives stoop to the level of their oppressors? That’s a good question and while the answer differs for everybody, I personally love well thought-out revenge stories where the protagonists learn to become better people, BUT still execute their plans to destroy their enemies. I love that shit and that’s why The Count of Monte Cristo and The Villainess Turns the Hourglass are my favorite stories of all time. I lose sleep at night worrying if Hourglass will get an awful anime adaptation, but that’s a conversation for another day.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a queer character that’s depicted in a negative light, which I guess shouldn’t be that surprising considering how poorly women are characterized in the show. It’s a real shame folks, because this had so much potential and it genuinely makes me sad that this’ll end up as another male power fantasy story. I’ll have to pass on this one folks, but if this inspired you to read The Count of Monte Cristo and The Villainess Turns the Hourglass then my job is done.